The good idea bin

September 28, 2010 8:37:57 PM CDT

Prototyping is an iterative process. You start with a rough idea, build a circuit (or device) that moves the idea out into the world, then play with it to see what happens when you substitute physics for fuzzy/wishful thinking.

As often as not, you find problems. Maybe you missed something, maybe the parts don't work the way you thought they would, or maybe it just doesn't seem like that great an idea once you can actually see it and poke at it.

Sometimes -- not often -- you get lucky. Everything comes together perfectly and you achieve a Great New Cool Thing on the first try. It's a heck of a rush when that happens, but anyone who expects it to happen all the time, every time is doomed to frustration.

Usually life hands you a partial success. You get something that works about as well as you'd expect from an idea sketched on the back of an envelope, but needs more time and attention to grow into something great.

That's what the good idea bin is for.

If something works, but I don't feel like chasing the idea further, it goes into the bin.

I may find a use for the thing itself down the road. I may use it as a design reference. I may look at it later and see a better way to solve the same problem. I might look at some part of it and see part of a good solution to a completely different problem. I might get interested in the problem again, and be willing to move the idea a few more steps down the road.

Or it might stagnate while I chase other ideas.

I don't know in advance what the answer will be. The best answers for questions like that are impossible to predict. They involve random connections to things that weren't part of your original mental model.

There are an infinite number of things outside any model. The model's whole purpose is to push stuff out so you can concentrate on the handful of things that are left. There's no systematic and orderly way to expand a model into new and unexpected contexts (aside from the obvious one, which takes infinite time), so all you can do is keep the old ideas fresh in your memory and wait for the lightning to strike.

That's what the good idea bin is for.